It has been suggested that the popular trend of Flash Fiction is largely due to lazy readers and busy lives. Nancy Stohlman’s The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories is a collection of Flash Fiction where the content justifies and even defends its own form. Here is an author who truly understands what it means to strip a story down to its essential elements. While this style of writing may be well suited to those with a limited attention span, or the modern individual whose hectic schedule refuses to make allowances for art – this book is far more than an exercise in saving time and effort. Furthermore, this carefully crafted set of stories is too engaging to be fobbed off as part of a popular trend; these shorts are a perfectly balanced mix of humour, irreverence, absurdity and an occasional touch of pathos.
As the title suggests, the book has two themes running through the collection. There are various well-known biblical tales, told from a somewhat humanistic perspective. Stohlman’s tongue in cheek humour is restrained and subtle. While she clearly relishes the odd dalliance with irreverence, only a fanatic would describe these stories as blasphemous. In the story, Annunciation, we are introduced to the mother of Christ as a wholly relatable character. In Lazarus, we find poor-old Lazarus wondering what to do with his second shot at life. Perhaps the best of the bunch – in terms of saying more with less – is the story, Jonah. In the space of two sentences the classic yarn is turned on its head with a rare treat of sarcastic, self-mocking brevity.
The second theme, and perhaps the stronger of the two, is the vixen – the female fox. The strange story of The Fox is essentially a love story, but it is one you won’t have read before. Told in seven, sensual instalments throughout the book, The Fox ruminates on age-old human experience, within a uniquely new and rather absurd concept.
Outside of the two themes some of the subject matter delves into fairly dark territory, but never becomes uncomfortable or sinister; and there is absurdity aplenty. Some of these stories could be described as slightly quirky, whereas others are downright bizarre. The socially awkward penis, an affair with a cardboard cut-out, a miniature version of the boyfriend who fits neatly in the inner pocket of a purse and a literal meeting with the younger self are some of many unlikely scenarios that could easily have slipped into irritating silliness in less capable hands. Fortunately, Stohlman steers clear from those qualities one might associate with bizarro fiction; that is to say that all of these smoke-long tales make sense and have a purpose.
The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories is a thoroughly entertaining trove of laughter. More importantly, it pokes fun at the human experience without trivializing it. There are moments of unabashed joy and mountains of broken sadness. There is hopeful longing and spiteful loathing and its surrealism is built on a foundation of realism. Nancy Stohlman is a writer who understands the power of silence and knows how to scream with brevity. Buy your copy of The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories from Amazon in paperback or Kindle here.
An avid reader, writer and reviewer of poetry and short fiction. Author of self-published poetry collections From the Depths and Through the Madness (May 2013), Play the Sad Violin (July 2013) and In the Bleak Hours (October 2013). Most recent chapbook, Pigeons and Peace Doves will be available through Blood Pudding Press June 2015.